Egyptians reject “exclusive Muslim club” claims

January 26, 2010

Egyptians living in Bahrain have scorned allegations that their national football team is an exclusively Muslim formation where only pious players are selected.
Reports published last week claimed that Egypt’s coach Hassan Shehata selected only players with religious piety and football skills, and that those who did not observe Islam were ruled out. The allegations were backed up by the fact that the current Egyptian team did not include any Christian player, even though Christians make up 10 % of the total population.
“This is totally ridiculous and obnoxious because it is so untrue,” said Hassan, a media analyst. “Whoever is behind the allegations either does not know anything about the history of football in Egypt or has some specific, totally unorthodox, ideas he or she wants to disseminate in a misleading way.”
Hassan said that historically many Christian players had had the honour of playing for Egypt and that religion was never a criterion in the selection of the squad

“Those who do not know for instance Hani Ramzy as a former player should at least recognize him today as a coach of the Olympic selection. In this capacity, he is in charge of selecting the promising players who will make it to the national squad. That is a very powerful position,” said Hassan.
For Jamal Lutfy, there are currently no Christian players in the football league, a fact that impacted selections in the national team.
“I do not accept there is discrimination on religious grounds or according to piety levels. I think that evoking such ridiculous claims now that the team is defending its status as the champion of Africa in 2006 and in 2008 is aimed at disturbing the players and making them lose their concentration,” said the southern Egyptian teacher, an avid fan of Al Ahly, the most prestigious club in the country, home to more than 80 million people.
Abdullah Hamdy had no doubt that the Egyptian team and Islam were being targeted. 
“You look at the call by the African Football Federation to the Egyptians to temper their goal-scoring celebrations. Egyptians have almost invariably celebrated by kneeling in prayer to thank God for His blessings. So asking them not to jubilate in fact amounts to telling them not to thank God in their own way, and this is religious discrimination,” he said.
“Why do football officials allow Christian players to do the Christian symbol as they run onto the pitch or score a goal, but do not allow Muslims to kneel? We are all for harmony between nations, sects and religions, but we resent discrimination,” said Abdullah.
According to the FIFA rulebook, “players may not reveal clothing that shows slogans or adverts. If a player removes his jersey and reveals a political, religious or personal statement, he will be punished by the organisers of the respective tournament or by FIFA.”
The European football federation, UEFA, however, says that it does not mind religious celebrations as long as they do not harm or offend any group, person or society.
Brazil star Ricardo Kaka in the 2007 Champions League finals took off his Milan A.C. Jersey to show a “I belong to Jesus” message. Cameroon’s favourite player Samuel Eto showed off his gratitude to Jesus on a shirt he wore under his team jersey after his team qualified for the second round in the African Cup.
Saudi Arabia players were the first to kneel down in prayers whenever they scored in their 1994 World Cup participation. But, the sight of the spiritual-looking Saudi players kneeling in prayer on the US grass did not shock or warrant calls to rein in celebrations. An attitude that the Egyptians believe should be accepted from other teams.
For decades, Egyptians have demonstrated their piety in front of thousands of cheering fans.
“That is a way of life in Egypt where millions of people practice their religion. It is not aimed at other religions or groups. Now, if that simple public expression that does not harm or hurt anyone is cause for concern for people overseeing sports, what about the racist chants that we hear against black players in some European countries? I know there is some action to tackle them, but it is too timid to have real effects,” said Haythem Sami.
“Shehata as a coach insisted on discipline as one way to make it to the A team. He said commitment and discipline. But nobody asked him what he meant by commitment. We all know that he meant commitment to the group, to getting involved as equal and not superior to other players. Some of the players see themselves as superstars because of the star-making industry in the Egyptian media and public sphere. Shehata wanted discipline and a team spirit. He insists and he wades into trouble, but when Fabio Capello stresses discipline with his English national team over-pampered stars, he is a strong and capable coach who can aptly lead a constellation of stars,” Haythem said.
Ahmad Khalil, an avid Al Ahly fan, said that the religious rituals could be “just an over expression of social attitudes, such as superstition.”
“Those familiar with Egyptian football know that the national coach Hassan Shahata is deeply superstitious. For example, ever since he was told by was told by an astrologer that sitting on the bench would bring bad luck, he always stood by the players, refusing to rest even for fleeting seconds. He believes that some players bring good luck, so he makes a point to put them on the field, even if they are blatantly out of shape, whereas the players who allegedly bring bad luck are not selected or allowed to play,” Ahmad said. “One of these ‘unlucky’ players played the game against Zambia in Cairo and Egypt failed to win. It is that draw that in fact cost the team the qualification for the World Cup finals. Now, this player is not with the team in Angola, and Egypt has so far qualified to play the semi-finals.”



About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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